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Chester County Press

Kennett High School and Middle School welcome back students for in-school instruction

01/19/2021 12:55PM ● By Steven Hoffman

A large percentage of the Kennett Consolidated School District’s high school and middle school students returned to classrooms on Jan. 11 after almost a year of virtual learning and shutdowns imposed by COVID-19 safety measures.

At the school board meeting on that reopening day, both High School Principal Jeremy Hritz and Middle School Principal Lorenzo D’Angelis reported that things had gone well on the first day back.

Hritz said the students seemed delighted to reunite with their friends and their teachers.

“You could feel the positive energy,” he said. “The kids were excited to be back. We spent the time going over procedures – getting them reoriented, especially the ninth graders. It can be a bit intimidating.”

He said about 70 percent of the high school population had signed up to return to hybrid instruction, but that number had not been reached on the first day.

D’Angelis said the middle school students likewise showed they were happy to be back.

“You could see the smiles under those masks. We’re still ‘school’ and there’s still anxiety. We wanted to be transparent and let them know we were going through this together,” he said.

D’Angelis added that he had been in all the classrooms in the span of the day.

“There was good instruction going on,” he said. “Lunch went very well. They were smiling and eating, and all day I didn’t have to ask one person to fix their mask.”

The middle school and high school are now running on a hybrid schedule of half of the student populations on Monday-Tuesday or Thursday-Friday in-school, with virtual learning on the other days. Students have the choice to remain totally virtual.

The elementary schools are operating – and have been -- on a population-bifurcated AM-PM schedule.

Superintendent Dr. Dusty Blakey gave an update on the district’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic with a series of PowerPoint illustrations of COVID-19 incidence levels at both the community level and the school level.

Statistics indicate that in the communities served by Kennett Schools, the incidence of positivity has gone down in the past four weeks to an average of 5.1 percent, varying depending the locality.

“We felt pretty good about that,” Blakey said.

He felt even better, he said, when he measured the positivity numbers in the schools, and he felt that they were the most accurate in guiding his decisions on school scheduling.

One graph he displayed showed only one positive case of COVID-19 in the high school student population and zero for the other district schools.

He also emphasized that residents should know when they observe a school staff member absent, it does not mean they are sick with COVID-19, but rather that they are in quarantine or have had a contact with a positive person.

Blakey’s guest speaker at the meeting was Dr. Susan Coffin, a physician and pediatric infectious disease expert from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

She made two points: One is that masking, keeping distance and hand washing are very effective in reducing spread of COVID-19 in the schools.

The other point is that when the infection is spread it is often because of staff gatherings, eating and drinking in groups or out-of-school events like carpools, off-campus gatherings, and extra-curricular activities.

“It gives me a lot of confidence that a school that has a strong infection control program in place can go forth safely,” she said.

She also said setting in place a rapid testing program would be beneficial in determining whether a student had a cold or COVID-19.

In that connection, the board approved a resolution allowing discussions with the Chester County Health Department to continue regarding designating certain Kennett School District buildings to be used as COVD-19 testing and vaccination centers.

Similarly, the district’s head nurse Diane Shannon announced that some school staff had participated in a program to enable them to administer COVID antigen tests. An antigen test is a nasal swab procedure that detects and indicates a current COVID-19 infection.

Additionally, she said, she and all of the other school nurses have gotten their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccinations.

“We want everyone else to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” she said.

In other business, the board approved an extension of the teacher’s contract for one more year. Assistant superintendent Michael Barber commented that the salary levels continue to “attract, retain and recruit high quality staff.”